Yugoslavian Ohioans

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Numerous Ohioans are descended from Yugoslavian ancestors. Today, Yugoslav Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries or regions, like Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.

In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern Europeans were also migrating to the state.

In 1900, fewer than ten thousand Yugoslavian immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, more than thirty thousand Yugoslavians lived in Ohio. Three different Yugoslavian ethnic groups eventually came to Ohio. These groups included the Slovenes, the Serbians, and the Croatians. Most Yugoslavians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or as day laborers. More successful immigrants established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Yugoslavian products. In Cleveland, the Yugoslavian immigrants tended to settle in their own communities or with other Southern Europeans, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did. By the mid 1900s, Cleveland claimed at least six Yugoslav communities. Most Yugoslavian immigrants were followers of the Roman Catholic Church, but some Yugoslavs were Byzantine or Muslim. In Cleveland, by 1920, Yugoslavians had also formed several social and cultural institutions. Croats, Slovenes, and Serbians formed their own organizations. Typically, the other Yugoslav ethnic groups were not permitted to join another ethnic group's organization, but few tensions historically existed between these people. Although they now resided in the United States, Yugoslavs continued to practice traditional customs and beliefs.

Yugoslavian immigrants congregated together partly out of camaraderie but also out of fear. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many native-born Americans feared outsiders. Some of these people objected to the immigrants' religious and cultural beliefs, while others believed that the foreigners would corrupt the morals of United States citizens. These people also contended that the quality of life within the United States would decline, as there were not enough jobs to employ the millions of people migrating to America. Many native-born Americans hoped either to limit immigration or to force foreigners to convert to American customs and beliefs. The leaders of this movement were the Progressives of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. To accomplish their goals, the Progressives implemented numerous reforms, including settlement houses, which taught foreigners American practices. The Progressives also called for laws that would either limit or ban the cultural practices of recently arrived immigrants. It would take several generations before the immigrants became truly accepted by the vast majority of white Ohioans.

Yugoslavian immigrants came to the United States in two distinct waves. The first wave started in the late 1800s and continued to World War I, as many Yugoslavs fled Europe due to financial difficulties or because of Austro-Hungarian rule. Following World War II, an additional wave of Yugoslav migrants arrived, as these people sought to escape their destroyed homeland. As a result of World War II, numerous Yugoslavian homes and businesses were destroyed. Yugoslavian migrants came to the United States, hoping to improve their financial lives. During this same era, other Yugoslav migrants fled communism, preferring the democratic and capitalist system in the United States. Croatians, Serbians, and Slovenes continue to immigrate to the United States today, as political turmoil still grips these people's respective homelands.

By the 1980s, Ohio's traditional Yugoslavian communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Yugoslavs, many Yugoslavian communities began to disintegrate. Many Yugoslavs moved into other communities, while non Yugoslavians began to infiltrate the traditionally Yugoslav neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Yugoslavian population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. Yugoslavian Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Yugoslav beliefs and customs.

See Also


  1. Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.